Behind the Scenes, Part 1 — Finding a Topic

By Megan Power on March 7, 2011

Are you interested in creating movies with your students, but not sure where to begin? Do you feel as though you don't have time to create movies with all the curriculum and standards that you need to cover? Take a look at this first post in a series about filmmaking with students. In this series, I will walk you through the process of creating a movie with your class so you feel confident in creating student films.

What Is a Student-Created Movie?

A student-created movie is just that: a movie created by students for students. The term "movie" according to Wikipedia is “a story conveyed with moving images.” When I start working with my students in the beginning of the year, we talk about this term. They soon learn that the Disney films they watch are movies, but so are the short clips they frequently see at school in lessons or on the Internet. Once they have a better understanding that a movie could be a few-second clip or a two-hour story, they are ready to get started creating their own.

Examples of Student-Created Movies

My young students have created films of all different types and lengths, from simple Movie Maker endangered animal videos to a ten-minute animated movie about U.S. symbols and landmarks. (See a segment.) Movies can range from something simple, completed in a class period, to a project that takes days or weeks to complete.

Take a look at this wide selection of resources and student-created film examples to assist you and your students in choosing the topic for your movie.

IvieAwards  iVIE Videos: Click "iVIE Videos" at the top and select a year to view amazing award-winning student videos for grades K–12. (Two of my students' videos are posted here!)

Banner Digital Storytelling Initiative: Take a look at "My Potato Sory."

Video in the My students love the City Mouse and Country Mouse video.

CommunitySmallLogo TeacherTube: TeacherTube is a great place to find educational films that are usually not blocked by security measures. 

Also, take a look at some of our Top Teacher bloggers' posts and Web sites for more fantastic video examples and resources.

Individual_photos_megan_148x148For more on this topic, see my other posts: "Making Movies With Students: Stage 1, Stage 2, Filming, and Stage 3, Editing and Publishing"; "Clifford's Preposition Mystery"; and "Filming — Stop Motion to Bring Curriculum to Life."

Individual_photos_beth_148x148 Beth's class videos and her post "Movie-Making in the Classroom" post are both worth checking out.

Individual_photos_angela_148x148 See Angela's class videosvideo podcast resources, and "Kids Teaching Kids: Filming Skills of Today for Kids of Tomorrow."

Individual_photos_christy_148x148 Read "Kids, the Ken Burns Effect, and American Slavery — Students Become Documentarians" and "Flip Movies Easy Enough for a 1st Grader to Complete." 

How to Select a Topic

When selecting a topic for a class- or student-created film, I always look at two areas: my grade level standards and my students’ areas of need. From there we are able to easily select a relevant topic. Then we use the time making the video to learn the skill or concept and not just to show what we learned after. This is a key part that teachers often overlook. Many teachers think about creating a multimedia project after learning a concept to show what they learned. Although this is appropriate at times, creating projects this way limits students' learning while consuming more class time. In other words, use the movie as the learning activity and not just the end result.

Look at Your Standards

Many teachers wonder how they can possibly fit their entire curriculum in along with making a movie. My answer is to use the movie to teach your curriculum and standards. For example, my kindergarten students are creating a stop motion movie about plants. Our science standards in kindergarten include naming the parts of the plants, identifying the needs of plants, and identifying and understanding the changes of seasons. With this one movie my students are doing in-depth studies encompassing many standards, including reading and writing, while they are creating this film. Click here to see a quick clip of our movie.

Look at the Needs of Your Students

According to our online assessment from NWEA, called MAP, the students in my class needed to grow more in vocabulary and word development. After looking at the skills in that area, as well as classroom assessments and observations, we determined that the students needed to learn contractions. I have found in the past that the concept of contractions is tricky to teach. By having them create a short stop motion video on a contraction, they were able to get hands-on practice and better understand the concept. They have now become contraction experts. Take a look at one example below. Notice how the students decided to have the letter “a” drop since the apostrophe was taking its place. I thought this was a highly effective animation that shows a lot of higher level thinking.

Get Your Students Involved in Choosing a Topic

Don’t forget about this important piece in your movie. Your students are highly capable of evaluating the curriculum for themselves to assist with deciding on a relevant topic.

I hope this first post of Behind the Scenes gives you some understanding of student created movies and helps you to gather your ideas. The next post in this series will discuss evaluating videos and creating a rubric with your students. So, as you watch the student video examples make note of what you saw that you liked and what you think could have been improved. Remember to check back next week!




Amanda, That's wonderful! I love to hear the amazing things going on. The students learn so much from doing projects like yours. Are you going to post your video anywhere? If so coment back with a link! Smiles, Megan

I teach 4th grade in Wyoming and we are just wrapping up our movies. The students picked three Wyoming landmarks for our Wyoming history and completed the research about those areas and recorded their movies using Photobooth and Keynote. They turned out great and the students learned so much about our state and technology!

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